Understanding Discrete Trial Training


Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a teaching methodology that falls under the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) umbrella. There has been a lot of confusion surrounding the understanding of DTT and ABA. Often, when people talk about ABA programs for children on the Autism Spectrum, they may actually be referring to DTT.

What is Discrete Trial Training?

In order to understand Discrete Trial Training, it’s necessary to first understand what Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is.

ABA is a behavioral science that aims to elicit meaningful changes in the actions of children on the spectrum. It is comprised of three key components:

  • A behavior, which occurs due to previous or current events (Antecedent)

  • These behaviors then cause children to behave a certain way (Behavior)

  • Based on their behavior, there is a consequence (Consequence)

In order to understand these components better, here is a real-time example:

Your child comes home exhausted from school and hasn’t eaten for quite a few hours, therefore, he feels hungry - which is your antecedent.

He then proceeds to eats food because he is hungry - this is the behavior.

Because he was hungry and subsequently ate something, he is now content - this is the consequence.

The example given above is a positive consequence for your child’s behavior.

ABA plays an important role in ensuring that your child’s behavior continues to produce positives consequences.

How does Discrete Trial Training (DTT) factor into this picture?

DTT further simplifies the ABA process by breaking each task down into discrete components. An ABA therapist ensures that children learn new skills that may also serve as positive replacement behaviors, one after the other, in order to produce positive outcomes. During this process, therapists may use several tangible reinforcements, like a toy or candy to elicit the desired behavior.

For instance, when a therapist is teaching various geometrical shapes, she might first start off by introducing simpler shapes like a square. She would then ask the child to point at the square shaped object. Later, she would move on to teaching another shape, such as a rectangle, and ask the child to point to both shapes. When a child is able to do this successfully, she rewards him. This encourages children to learn these skills and also teaches them compliance (e.g. listening, attending) while such learning takes place.

Many therapists swear by DTT and find it incredibly effective as a tool for teaching how to shape behaviors while also teaching replacement and new skills to children with ASD.

Discrete Trial Training at Stepping Stones:

The purpose of our DTT program is to teach children how to learn by helping them acquire academic, language, social, and appropriate behavioral skills. We use behavioral methods that enhance your child’s learning not only by teaching but also by replacing challenging behaviors that children face with more appropriate ones. We ensure that parents stay updated about their child’s success with detailed data collection and analysis of such data through monthly meetings with the team and family and progress reports. Changes in programming are also guided by the data outcomes so as to ensure each program is individualized based on the child’s needs, performance outcomes, etc.

Stepping Stones’ treatment program involves a range of different skills that are taught to each child, using a range of locations in which we conduct various treatment sessions. As the child masters various social skills, we increase variability in order to facilitate generalization in your child’s natural environment.

For more information regarding sensory therapy, cognitive skills, behavior therapy, developmental disorders, and early intervention, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize on acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age-appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.

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